TV-PGDecember 21, 2004: The lawsuits just keep on coming, as Apple sues three developers for posting prerelease Tiger builds on the 'net. Meanwhile, Microsoft loses its appeal of the European antitrust ruling against it, and finally you can get the answers to that question that's kept you awake at night for a decade: what was up with Graphing Calculator?...
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"...Two Lawsuits Leaping..." (12/21/04)

Ah, the Christmas season: that magical time of year marked by the near-ubiquitous presence of garishly festooned imitation conifers, giant inflatable lawn Santas, and extended holiday shopping hours at stores unloading impersonal pre-wrapped ties and Isotoner gloves at holly-jolly discounts. But in this day and age, it's easy to forget that the true spirit of the holiday season isn't about manufactured ersatz goodwill and the relentless pursuit of material possessions. It isn't even about the eggnog. As Linus so effectively reminds us in A Charlie Brown Christmas, this holiday is really about suing the bejeezus out of anyone who would dare violate the sanctity of the almighty Non-Disclosure Agreement. (Well, that's what we got out of it, anyway; what version were you watching?)

Luckily for drama fiends like us, Apple is filled to bursting with so much holiday spirit, it's spraying lawsuits uncontrollably in every direction. It was mere days ago that we marveled at the company's "John Doe" lawsuit against the as-yet-unnamed person or persons who plastered the 'net with details about Apple's unannounced "Asteroid" FireWire audio breakout box, and yet Apple continues to give generously to those craving still more holiday litigation: faithful viewer MrP informs us that, as reported by CNET, now Apple has filed suit against three developers who allegedly distributed prerelease developer builds of Apple's next major operating system version, Tiger, via the BitTorrent peer-to-peer filesharing protocol.

Wow, you can almost smell the holiday spirit-- or is it the scent of Apple roasting those developers' chestnuts over the open fire of its Flaming Pit of Legal Retribution™? Either way, Apple claims that the defendants all had access to Tiger developer betas via their membership in the Apple Developer Connection, for which they'd all signed "strict confidentiality agreements." While we don't have a copy of said agreements in front of us, we're going to hazard a guess that they're pretty clear on the topic of not posting copies of developer OS seeds for free downloading by the general public. Nevertheless, Apple alleges that the three defendants did exactly that, starting last October and continuing "through this month," which led to "more than 2,500 copies" having been downloaded via BitTorrent-- and that was for just one of the posted versions.

Apple is seeking a "stop doing that" injunction, as well as the ever-popular "unspecified monetary damages." Let's see, here... 2,500 copies of Tiger downloaded (more, actually; this is a bare minimum estimate, here) times probably $129 a pop when the software ships next year equals $322,500. But, of course, these weren't finished and complete versions of Tiger, so presumably they're worth a lot less-- or possibly, from the court's perspective, a lot more. The cheapest ADC membership option that includes access to prerelease operating systems costs $500 a year. Multiply that by the 2,500 downloaded copies of Tiger, and these defendants may be looking at damages of $1.25 million. And that's based solely on estimated immediate revenue loss, and doesn't even include any punitive damages, or compensation for long-term competitive damage based on Microsoft developers even now poring through downloaded Tiger builds for stuff to copy into Longhorn.

In other words, these developers might be on the hook for some serious moolah-- but how else would you know it's Christmas? So ho ho ho, everybody, and keep your eyes peeled for Apple's next holiday lawsuit, which ought to be coming around, oh, roughly twenty minutes from now. After all, 'tis the season!

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On Santa's Naughty List (12/21/04)

Okay, technically we know that this is the sort of thing that we should save for Wildly Off-Topic Microsoft-Bashing Day, but we're going to address it today, instead, and for a few very good reasons. First of all, Friday is Christmas Eve, and under typical holiday circumstances, everyone inhabiting the AtAT compound would be far too giddy with anticipation of Imminent Loot Influx to concentrate even the infinitesimal lower-invertebrate amount necessary to whip off one of these episodes. Second, as it turns out, there won't be anyone around to produce a show, because the entire staff-- well, except for the compound's guard Mac, a self-sufficient Classic II with an attitude, mounted on wheels and armed with a cattle prod; burglars beware!-- will be on a plane to Chicagoland on Friday. ("Traveling on Christmas Eve with a toddler in tow," you ask? "Why, yes, we are completely insane; thank you for asking," we reply.) And the third reason is the biggie: Microsoft actually having to suffer a consequence for its antitrust actions is just too darn rare-- and cool-- not to revel in immediately.

That's right, people, Christmas came (marginally) early this year. Many of you may remember way back in March when the European Commission ruled on Microsoft's anticompetitive behavior and slapped Microsoft with a fine of 497 million euros, the largest fine it's ever demanded for antitrust infractions. Of course, while having to shell out the equivalent of two-thirds of a billion dollars would constitute at least a minor inconvenience to most companies, Bill Gates carries that kind of cash in his sock as emergency bus fare. But the EC didn't just fine the company, you may recall: it also demanded that Microsoft share portions of its Windows source code with others, and also sell a version of Windows without Windows Media Player bundled in. And that's the sort of stuff that would hurt Microsoft a whole lot more than a measly little 9-figure fine ever could.

Of course, at the time, we honestly didn't think that Microsoft would have to pay the fine or make the business changes, since historically the company is practically Teflon-coated when it files to appeal rulings like this; remember when the U.S. government ordered the company to be split up? Instead of suffering a massive antitrust breakup, Microsoft appealed and eventually wound up getting nothing worse than a slap on the wrist-- a wrist which the government then immediately kissed, rubbed with fragrant healing oils, and proceeded to massage in a vaguely inappropriate fashion. So when Microsoft immediately appealed the EC ruling as well, we resigned ourselves to a similarly disappointing conclusion.

But when you band 'em together like that, apparently those Europeans don't take no guff from slick U.S. corporations looking to weasel out of taking their medicine. Faithful viewer thorsten tipped us off to a BBC News article which reports that the European Court of First Instance has ruled that "the evidence adduced by Microsoft is not sufficient to show that implementation of the remedies imposed by the Commission might cause serious and irreparable damage," and therefore Microsoft's appeal for a suspension of the fine and corrective measures has been-- dare we say it?-- dismissed "in its entirety."

Oh, man. That may have been the most enjoyable thing we've ever said, ever ever ever. Sweet lady schadenfreude, how you spoil us so...

Now, we're trying not to get too happy about this development, because Microsoft can still appeal again, this time to the European Court of Justice, a.k.a. "the Highest Court in the Land." But still, the fact that Microsoft's first appeal was swatted down so completely bodes well for a final outcome-- and in the meantime, we all get to revel in one excellent prezzie from the Europeans. It's a Festivus Miracle!

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Paycheck, Shmaycheck (12/21/04)

Speaking of our imminent trip to the dense jungles and arid deserts of the American Midwest, we should probably take a moment to warn you that you're extremely unlikely to see any new AtAT broadcasts between Christmas Eve (when we depart, in three relatively people-shaped pieces) and New Year's Day (when we return, most likely in roughly six or eight chunks that are rather less well-defined). Note that we're not flat-out saying that we won't be broadcasting, mind you; we're bringing our trusty PowerBooks and hoping to produce at least occasional episodes as time permits. Historically speaking, though, we always say that, and time never permits us to breathe more than once or twice an hour, much less crank out snarky melodrama about Apple-related happenings.

We'd feel guiltier about the whole thing if it weren't for the facts that 1) most of you will also be too busy with holiday activities to miss us; 2) the flow of Apple-related news practically shuts down for the next week, so there probably won't be anything to incorporate into the plot anyway; and 3) this is free, so we'll gladly refund your money if you're not satisfied. In fact, you know what? We've already done it in advance, just in case. Check a pocket where you usually keep no money at all, and we're confident that you'll find even more no money-- everything you haven't paid us, plus interest. It's all part of our commitment to quality.

Not that we'd leave you entirely high and dry, of course: in preparation for our holiday romp through America's Heartland, we're hooking you up with a story so epic in scope and so packed to the gills with raw Apple-flavored drama, it ought to get you through the slow moments of an entire AtATless holiday week with room to spare. Faithful viewer Yaniv Eidelstein sent us a link to The Graphing Calculator Story, developer Ron Avitzur's personal account of the birth of that beloved Apple Menu item that served as a handy demo of the PowerPC's raw speed-- in a way that was, like all the best Apple products, both funky and geeky at the same time. So what's so enthralling about the story of its birth, you ask? Only this: that Ron apparently wrote the bulk of it after his project-- and therefore his contract position at Apple-- had been terminated. He was unemployed... but that didn't stop him from showing up to work.

See, this was 1993, long after Steve Jobs's departure and still years before his return. By all accounts, Apple was not the most tightly-run ship at the time. Ron's project tanked because it was "plagued by politics and ego," and when it was summarily canceled, he was understandably frustrated that a year of his work had evaporated overnight. Despite having been canned, he discovered that his "electronic badge still opened Apple's doors," so he decided to "uncancel" his little aspect of the project-- Graphing Calculator, natch-- and just kept showing up at Apple to finish his work.

We don't want to go too deeply into what happened next, for fear of ruining a rollicking good read for you. Suffice it to say that Ron wasn't the only unemployed developer showing up at Apple to work on canceled projects, and you'll marvel at the ways in which they doggedly persevered in the face of the occasional and increasingly cluefulness of Apple management and security... not to mention the utter lack of a paycheck. Oh, and at one point they launch an early version of Graphing Calculator and the monitor catches fire. How can you not love this stuff?

Sounds completely insane, doesn't it? And yet we know a few longtime Apple employees who could certainly call shenanigans on the story if it were just a delightful flight of fancy, but instead we've been assured that every word of Ron's account is 100 percent true. Seriously, read the story and then read it again; it's quite possibly the best explanation we've seen about how Apple continued to churn out products that bordered on the magical even when the company was suffering from a blight of mismanagement that may well have been a biblical plague. Simply put, the guys in the trenches soldiered on regardless, refusing to let something as inconsequential as terminally ineffective management or their technical lack of a job stop them. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wonder if you can option the movie rights.

So savor it, people, and if you treat it right, it'll get you through any AtATless days between now and next year. By the way, about that trip we're taking: even if we don't get around to broadcasting any new episodes, there's at least a passing chance that we'll be making a visit to one of the Chicago-area Apple retail stores (we still haven't seen the Michigan Avenue one yet, for example) and/or the Apple Store Mayfair. So if you live in the Chicago or Milwaukee areas, keep at least one eye focused on the pink sticky, because we'll give as much advance notice as possible if we're going to visit a particular store, and we'd love for you to come say howdy. And hey, what better way to close out the year than with a free sticker?

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